Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) affects many Australian women, so when it comes to falling pregnant, here’s what you need to know.
At a glance
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) affects up to one in five Australian women.
- Due to the absence of a regular menstrual cycle, it’s not uncommon for women suffering from PCOS to find it difficult to conceive naturally or that it takes longer to do so.
- PCOS-induced infertility can often be reversed through oral medications, injectables and in more difficult cases, IVF.
PCOS is a complex hormonal condition affecting up to one in five women of child-bearing age, where they may have high levels of insulin and/or male-type hormones called androgens. In some women PCOS runs in the family, and the condition can be worsened by being overweight.
“PCOS is the most common hormone condition affecting women of childbearing age,” confirms fertility specialist, PCOS expert and author of the recently published first international guideline on PCOS Dr Michael Costello. However, not all women will exhibit the same symptoms. “It has a number of features – reproductive, metabolic and psychological.”
Among the most common symptoms are:
• Irregular menstrual cycles (periods may be less or sometimes more frequent)
• Amenorrhoea (no periods at all)
• Mood changes (including anxiety and depression)
• Excess hair on the face, stomach and back
• Hair loss on the scalp
PCOS and getting pregnant
For women with PCOS, the concept of starting a family can feel like it comes with extra challenges. Many women with PCOS struggle to conceive naturally – or experience a significant delay – due to the absence of a reliable, trackable menstrual period as a consequence of a reduction in ovulation, which is why seeing a specialist early on in your fertility journey is key.
Although not knowing when – or if – you are ovulating can slow the fertility process down a little, “Infertility for those with PCOS can usually be overcome,” emphasises Dr Costello. For example, specialists can stimulate steady ovulation with the right medication.
Often the first step is a simple ovulation check which in some cases may include a blood test done at a clinic during the second half of a woman’s cycle – that will indicate whether ovulation is occurring. If ovulation is erratic or non-existent an ovulation-inducing drug may be prescribed, or the doctor may choose to use a closely monitored injectable or, in more difficult cases, IVF.
Think of the positives
The chances of getting pregnant naturally (and quickly) may be lower for those with PCOS, but Dr Costello explains that it’s not all doom and gloom. “Studies show that those with PCOS may take longer to conceive but that their lifetime fertility is not impaired,” he explains.
In fact, women who suffer symptoms of PCOS throughout their younger years may experience an improvement – or even remission – of the condition as they get older.
For personalised treatment, support and to kickstart fertility discussions, speak to your GP or fertility specialist. You can also download the evidence-based app AskPCOS produced by the new International Guideline in PCOS to learn more about the condition.